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Just two hours a week in nature

Recent research has found clear evidence that going for a hike can help your health. But how much time in nature do we need to be healthier? A group led by researchers in the United Kingdom tried to answer that question, in what they describe as a first step toward coming up with a nature version of national physical activity guidelines.

Researchers surveyed more than 19,000 people in the United Kingdom about the recreational time they spent in nature during the past week, along with their self-reported health and well-being. They found out that people who spent at least 120 minutes a week in nature saw a boost in their mental and physical health, compared to people who didn’t spend any time in nature.

The researchers say the size of the health benefits was similar to what people would get by meeting the guidelines for physical activity. It didn’t matter how or where people racked up the 120 minutes; many short walks near home were just as effective as a longer hike on the weekend at a park.

The research also points out that this is just a first step toward being able to recommend people to spend a certain amount of time each week in nature while another research further shows that even small bouts in nature can provide health benefits.

In one study, people who exercised for just five minutes in nature saw boosts to their self-esteem and mood. Some of the health benefits of nature are due to people getting more physical activity when they are outside.

A very important part of the research interestingly shows that even sitting still in nature can improve health, providing a break from hours of mentally tiring “directed attention” — time spent focused on our work, our computer screen, driving, etc. These benefits, though, only show up if you put down your smartphone and give nature your full attention.

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